Rock lore loves to romanticize the drug casualty. Of course it’s wrong, but it’s so hard to resist imagining the tantalizing might-have-beens that surround the likes of Syd Barrett, Roky Erickson, and Skip Spence, all of whom suffered from mental illnesses almost certainly exacerbated by their enthusiastic drug use. Pot and acid have inarguably inspired creativity by breaking down the artificial walls between categories that exist only in our minds, but there are people who can’t handle that and lose it. And it’s really not so romantic, especially when the artists who fall through that crack never got the chances that Spence, Barrett, and Erickson had at recognition.
Ugly Things’ Mike Stax has authored a new book, Swim Through the Darkness, to be published in September by Process Media, which tells the tale of Maitreya Kali, born Craig Smith in 1945. He should have been a really goddamn big deal—he landed an easy entry to the L.A. music scene in 1963 when he successfully auditioned to be one of The Good Time Singers, a ten-person folk band assembled to serve as backing vocalists, musicians, and skit extras on The Andy Williams Show. Smith was an instant standout in the ensemble, making up for novice guitar playing with fine singing, an ebullient screen presence, and a toothpaste-commercial smile. In this clip, he’s the first to appear, bounding out of the starting gate ahead of the pack. He even gets lines.
The Good Time Singers in 1963. Smith is the one with the teeth, back row, second from right.
While Smith’s contributions to the Good Time Singers LPs he preformed on were limited to background vocals, he was quietly and unbeknownst to his bandmates pursuing a career as a songwriter in his own right. When the group’s tenure on William’s show ended in 1966, Smith intended to split off and start a duo with his bandmate Lee Montgomery, but that was not to be—Smith instead began auditioning for TV roles. Neat trivia item: Smith went to public school with Micky Dolenz. Smith and Dolenz both auditioned for The Monkees and for a more dramatic music-oriented series called The Happeners. I doubt I have to tell you that Dolenz became a Monkee. Smith’s audition for The Happeners was successful and he was cast as a lead, but though those who saw the pilot raved, the show never got picked up. According to TV Obscurities:
A “musical-drama,” The Happeners told the story of a Greenwich Village folk-rock trio making their way in New York City. Singers Suzannah Jordan, Chris Ducey and Craig Smith were chosen to portray the trio after 2,000 auditions in New York City and Hollywood and each episode was to include five original songs written by Bob Bower.
According to The New York Times, it cost Plautus between $6,000 and $7,000 to buy the airtime to show the pilot. Morris told Broadcasting that “at first, ABC was most interested. It tested well, and [ABC president] Leonard Goldenson called it ‘the finest pilot I’ve ever seen.’ But when sponsorship was not immediately forthcoming, the network withdrew.”
Despite near-unanimous acclaim, the pilot, alas, is not available for viewing online.
Disappointing though that experience was, it wasn’t an entirely pyrrhic victory for Smith, who embarked on a fruitful creative partnership with his Happeners co-star Chris Ducey. Together, they formed the eponymous duo Chris and Craig, which in turn morphed into the classic lost psych band The Penny Arkade, who received the patronage and production skills of The Monkees’ Mike Nesmith. Check out the Penny Arkade tune “Swim,” followed by the extremely rare Chris and Craig song “Our Love has Come Today,” which has long existed only as an acetate in Chris Ducey’s possession, and has never been heard by the public until today.
Hear the song, and more, after the jump…